What is Altofest
Altofest (altofest.net) is a human-specific project of experimental sociality based on values such as proximity, gift, and hospitality.
The project was born in Naples in 2011 by TeatrInGestAzione, with the artistic direction of Anna Gesualdi and Giovanni Trono. It is conceived as an act of artistic and political resistance “to give rise to” a large and heterogeneous community, generating critical thought. The artists are hosted in the homes of resident citizens, whom we call “space donors”. Citizens and artists live together for two weeks, including a period of artistic residencies and the following opening of the houses to the public.
Altofest is a device conceived as a collective performance in the shape of a festival. The Altofest dramaturgy corresponds to the plot of itineraries and routes that guide the inhabitant of the Fest in an orchestrated sequence of urban landscapes and domestic intimacy that is crossed by performing artworks and talks.
Altofest activates a transversal process, which calls to dialogue all the social components of the urban fabric in which it is engrafted, aiming to overcome roles favouring choral participation. This inclusive experience generates “original relationships” thanks to a semantic interference between the flow of daily life and the feat of artistic creation in the domestic space. Everyday life is permeated by the foreign vision carried by international artists and languages of the live arts hosted in the program.
Awarded by the EFA (European Festival Association) with the EFFE AWARD 2017-18 (Europe for Festivals Festivals for Europe), resulting in the six best European festivals among more than 715 candidates. In 2018 it was included as a best practice in the annual report “Io sono cultura 2018” (t/n, I am culture), edited by Symbola Foundation.
Also, in 2018, the Italian Ministry of Culture awarded it the “European Year of Heritage” label. Winner of the Funder35 (2016); SIAE-Sillumina (2017); Allianz Kulturstiftung (2019) calls. Altofest is also an indicator of the cultural interest of the city of Naples in the Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor tool of the European Commission.
What is the process of recruiting performers and artists?
There is a difference between the annual editions in Naples and the special editions outside Naples. Regarding Altofest in Naples, the annual edition, we select artists to spread an international open call. It is an opportunity to overlook the worldwide artistic trend because we receive more than 600 proposals each year. The dramaturgy does emerge from observing all the proposals. Indeed, the whole “fest” is composed as a performance in itself, and each performance is part of the dramaturgy of Altofest. Each edition brings to light the thematic and aesthetic discourse that emerges from the selection of all proposals we receive.
Altofest Naples is the lab where citizens meet artists we didn’t meet yet. It is possible because an established group of experienced space donors is ready to experiment with us.
Regarding special editions, we make a direct call to artists following the characteristics of new space donors. Because citizens are involved for the first time, it is essential to us the specific care that an Artist already knows Altofest can have.
In both cases, the match Artist-resident it’s up to us as Artistic directors. It defines dramaturgy. The selection is not the expression of a personal judgment, but it responds to the writing process of dramaturgy by emergence, different edition by edition.
Would you be able to describe the range of performances Altofest showcases in a few sentences?
The program welcomes contemporary live art artists experimenting with hybrid practices. Altofest aims at transcending the genre, altofest is a place where experimentation with language is not necessarily tied to stylistic trappings that, rather than defining an art form, trap it in a cage. The performances that can be seen at Altofest are mainly hybrid, but even when it is possible to define one of the works in a genre, there is always in that work research on language capable of provoking thematic and aesthetic reflection.
All the performances have been conceived for a formal space and should have already premiered in an artistic context. The “Altofest engine” transforms the performance into something unexpected for its author through a translation of the signs for the domestic context.
Is this the first time Altofest is being held in Malta?
In 2018 Altofest left the borders of Naples for the first time, inaugurating a series of special editions commissioned by different European Capitals of Culture: Altofest Malta 2018 for Valletta 2018 ECoC; Altofest Matera-Basilicata 2019 for Matera 2019 ECoC; and on 2022 a re-edition for Valletta, commissioned by the Valletta Cultural Agency. It is also included in the Kaunas 2022 and Trenčín 2026 nomination dossier, acting as a de facto connector of a “spontaneous” network among the cities sharing this title.
Altofest Malta 2018 ECoC edition, the festival run in 11 towns, Rabat, Manikata, Hamrun, Qormi, Santa Venera, Zejtun, Bormla, Birgu, Sliema, Gzira and Valletta. In the Altofest Matera-Basilicata ECoC edition, the festival run in 11 towns: Venosa, Melfi, Moliterno, Sarconi, Montalbano Jonico, Tursi, Tricarico, Grassano, Montescaglioso, Miglionico, Matera.
These two special editions lasted one month with a relay structure, in which from one village to the next, the art residencies overlapped for a week so that there was always one residency ending and one beginning.
How did that go? What was the feedback locally?
It was surprising to see how a project born in Naples succeeded in living in a new place. People reacted very well, the moments of the meeting were touching and full of new and unexpected reflections. We knew it could work but did not expect it so strongly. Many artists stayed in touch with their donors, and some returned the hospitality by welcoming them back to their countries. Some space donors came to Naples to visit us. And we are still in touch with them. The bond and the strong friendships born between artists and donors last beyond geographical and linguistic distances.
When Altofest was brought to Malta, it was its first time abroad. We worked for two years on the preparation, trying to talk to as many people as possible about the project and being among people as much as possible. It was difficult to immerse ourselves in another culture, another way of seeing the world, we were displaced.
The Festival displaces works, asking its authors to translate them for domestic spaces and in that first special edition in Malta, for the first time, the displacer was displaced. We had to translate ourselves, into another language, in another culture. In this process, we discovered anew what we had been doing for seven years, looking at it through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. It happened to us what happens to artists when they arrive at Altofest.
The Maltese are not traditionally very keen to open their doors to strangers. Was it difficult to recruit hosts?
Opening the doors of one’s home is never easy, not only in Malta. Nowadays, people live with an attitude of defending their space, time, and belonging. And the enemy is another human. We lost a common enemy and found it in our neighbour or the foreigners. When we came to Malta in 2016, it was our first time here. We started by meeting people in the street and observing the movement of people in the towns and the daily life of the territories. There were always steps to take, first meeting outside, then at home in the living room, then slowly from the living room to the kitchen and then to the whole house. It was a long process of building trust. And for us, it was a continuous refinement and fine-tuning of our way of narrating the project, each time finding more precise words to share from the first time.
The current edition runs just in Valletta. Valletta is inclined to be cosmopolitan, people from all over the world converge there for different reasons, but it is very small and is going through a process of gentrification and touristification, which makes it very fragile. We know how processes like these can destroy the identity of a people by crystallising it into a form that can be spent in the tourist market. Despite this, those who live in Valletta, because they were born there or chose it as their home, love it deeply, it is a type of feeling I often see in Neapolitans towards their city. Among these people, each moved by a different reason, we found our Space Donors; some of them to discover something about themselves, some for the joy of being challenged, some for the beauty of the project, some to give the city another poetic experience, some for the love of art, some because every poetic act is a political act.
We also had bad experiences because the human variable is unpredictable. But in more than ten years are very few, less than one hand’s fingers.
How was the response of the hosts to the performances (in the previous edition)?
The hosts change their gaze day by day, following the process of creation. So performance becomes familiar even if, at the beginning, it seems too experimental to someone.
They are introduced to an unusual linguistic dimension that extends the vocabulary and the sight. We share with the citizens that the project is challenging, and cohabitation is necessary because otherwise, the daily life of the artist and that of the citizen cannot mutually affect each other. At a certain point, it becomes routine to see an artist dance in one’s kitchen or an actor repeat his performance in the bathroom. Just as it is natural to set the table for lunch in the same place where one’s performance takes place. The work of art breaks into everyday life, enabling the poetic part of existence to emerge.
Staying for two weeks lost in translation and out of our comfort zone is what we think is needed for the process to work.
Is there any uniquely Maltese feedback you received?
At the beginning of the community building process, all pretty Maltese people were worried about the costs, and it seemed strange to us because the same people were the first to offer you a drink or something else. Most of them asked if they had to feed them. But we never thought it was out of avarice, it was a defence. We probably thought that those who have been colonised or invaded are burnt, and people from outside are perceived as a potential danger to their wealth and identity. Having overcome the first reaction, it was enough to explain well that the festival was founded on the gift to see how a different approach emerged.
The gift for us is the main engine of the whole Altofest, it is the gift that, being unquantifiable, creates the possibility of building a relationship not devoted to consumption, in which each gift is followed by another gift of a different nature. It only took a little while for people to realise the deeper meaning of the project and that it was like hosting an old friend, who is self-sufficient, and with whom you can feel free and happy to share your life.
Reciprocity is needed to build a community.
How do you find the response to contemporary performance art and dance changing over the years?
In the last ten years, artistic mobility and residencies have been promoted and funded by many cultural institutions worldwide. So practice and poetic exchanges have been crucial to sharing visions, processes, and works. The usual categories fell in favour of hybrid forms. But it is not the same everywhere. Classical forms remain the preferred forms because they offer something immediately recognisable, yet it is becoming increasingly clear that it is precisely in hybrid forms that the creative space of the spectator is larger.
Has the response in Malta changed from your experience so far?
We have been coming to Malta since 2016, 6 years is a short time to draw a line of change, indeed, Valletta has changed since Valletta 2018, and it is clear that it was a change the city was asking for.
Do you feel that projects like Altofest are valuable in opening the community’s eyes to the world and highlighting the value of art in helping us understand each other?
A project such as this places the confrontation with the other at the forefront, Altofest creates a field of negotiation in which we are all away from home, and we all have to work on creating a common language. The artistic process that lives in homes becomes the source of this new language. An artist who translates his or her performance for a domestic space not only infests the spaces and time of life in a house but infests the meaning placed in objects, adding a new dimension to each of them and leaving a poetic seed in the places he or she passes through. But also the life of the house and the numerous stories that inhabit it influence the artist’s work through an act of resistance, just as marble resists the sculptor. But that resistance affects the final work, like an inoperative intelligence.
To welcome an artistic operation into one’s home is to realise that being invaded is sometimes a privilege. We aim to foster a new sense of humanity, encouraging cooperation between people from different backgrounds and conditions and creating a new resilient hybrid community.
What did you take home after Altofest in Malta?
After all this intense time spent here, we certainly bring with us ‘another look’, we have made space within ourselves for another culture, welcoming another worldview, and now returning to our world, we will look at it through your eyes. As we always say for Altofest, the legacy we leave behind is a void.
He who welcomes makes space for the guest, but after the guest’s departure, that space remains empty, a void to be filled, a place to inhabit. So it is for us too.
We want to unify, in a unique and big one, all the local communities of Altofest: A unique broad community that finds itself sharing a “poetical citizenship” as a widespread, open and inclusive practice. Over the last ten years, Altofest has gathered around it a heterogeneous community composed of residents, international artists, scholars and researchers, and cultural experts. People from different social statuses are bound by a shared project. The core of Altofest is its community and the ideal geography that takes shape from it. We love to say that Altofest is a “human-specific” project because it is founded by the permanence of connections over time, the frequency of relationships, and the persistence of the spaces that the community “inhabits”. Since the beginning, the image of the “Hovering City” was a source of inspiration and, at the same time, an objective to pursue: an ideal place inhabited by people connected by poetical practices based on the principles of proximity, gift, and hospitality. New geography rises from the different territorial, linguistic or cultural realities to give rise to a relational and proliferating ecosystem. Anna Gesualdi and Giovanni Trono
Teatringestazione and Altofest’s creators and directors